Five biggest questions for the Bruins as they open camp
Five biggest questions for the Bruins as they open camp
The Bruins are undoubtedly hoping to build off last season after making the playoffs for the first time in three years, and doing so while introducing young players Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy to the veteran group. They might even able to do repeat that if some things go right for them and they again get the kind of standout performances from Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak that led the way last season. Still, there are some pretty substantial questions that must be answered if they are to have the same kind of success, and look just as energized, productive and creative as they did once Bruce Cassidy took over as coach last season. Here are the top five questions they face with training camp set to start at the end of this week:
1) When will David Pastrnak enter the fray?
Pastrnak 21, remains unsigned and far away from the rest of his teammates with the start of training camp just days away, and there doesn’t appear to be anything close to a resolution. One suspects that a holdout will continue for at least the first part of camp with a couple of million dollars-per-season dividing the two sides. So, the Bruins will need to get on with the business of hockey without their young game-breaker. Expect the stalemate to continue until the regular season comes into view at the beginning of October and that both sides will begin looking at different options to gain the upper hand in leverage. We’ve already heard about reports of KHL offers and offer sheet threats with the Bruins right winger, but an eventual deal with the B’s remains the only viable option for both sides. Perhaps a shorter bridge deal becomes a greater possibility if the two sides can’t agree on a maximum eight-year deal, but that hasn’t become a topic of discussion to this point in negotiations. One thing remains very true: The Bruins have no suitable options to replace their talented young scorer if things go awry in negotiations, so Don Sweeney needs to find a way to get something done with Pastrnak.
2) Are the kids going to be all right?
The Bruins are counting on at least one, and ideally two, young forward prospects to step up and win NHL jobs in training camp. There are some very key openings up front on David Krejci’s left side, and in the catbird right-wing spot alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Other experienced forwards like Kenny Agostino, Frank Vatrano and David Backes will get looks there as well, but the ideal situation for the B’s is to have Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Zach Senyshyn pop in training camp as a Brandon Carlo did at 19 last season on the back end. This was part of the thinking behind the Bruins largely standing pat in the offseason and steering clear of high-priced, aging free agents in favor of their own home-grown prospects who should be ready to contribute at this point in their young careers. There may be some growing pains and some times of struggles with the talented prospects as they make their way in the NHL, but this is the draft-and-development model that the B’s are planning on for a successful return to prominence in the East. If the young forwards don’t pan out and it takes some time to untangle the David Pastrnak situation, there could be some lean offensive times for the Bruins to start this season.
3) Who will round out Boston’s top-four defensemen?
We know that Zdeno Chara, 40, Brandon Carlo, 20, and Charlie McAvoy, 19, will comprise three of the top-four spots among Boston’s defense corps once the season gets going. Certainly, there will be a learning curve for McAvoy in his first full NHL go-round with lots of responsibility on his plate, and even Carlo in Year No. 2 should still have some lessons to learn in the NHL after an impressive, if uneven, rookie campaign. But there is still plenty of question as to how the Bruins will divvy up their pairs: Will they opt to re-team Chara and Carlo as a shutdown pair, and then find a left side partner for McAvoy that could be Kevan Miller playing on his off-side or Torey Krug giving the Bruins a quick, offensively-adept ,puck-moving tandem? Or will it be Chara and McAvoy as a bit of a balanced pairing while the rookie feels his way through his first NHL season, and then Carlo likely with Krug as a young, equally balanced pairing that would once again put the smaller Krug in a difficult top-4 role. Could Jakob Zboril suddenly burst on the scene in his first full NHL camp and earn a spot that would give the Bruins another frontline D-man, but make them extremely young on the back end where youthful mistakes can cripple teams? There are a lot of questions at this point when it comes to Boston’s defense corps, but it still feels like they are one quality top-four short of being a truly excellent group, and may need another year of maturation from McAvoy and Carlo before they get there.
4) Will the Bruins backup goaltending finally be able to support Tuukka Rask?
The Bruins have finally come to the conclusion that their No. 1 goalie should be limited to 55-60 games per season in order to get the best performance out of him, instead of the 66 games that Rask has averaged over the past three seasons. Last year, the Bruins didn’t get a second win out of their backup goalies until February and vastly overworked Rask in the first half of the season while Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre fumbled their way through performances. Khudobin finally pulled things together after NHL All-Star weekend and finished up strongly with major wins against the Islanders and Blackhawks in the playoff push. Based on that strong finish, Khudobin will likely get the backup job to Rask again this season despite both Subban and McIntyre returning to the fold on two-year, two-way deals. Now it’s up to the Khudobin, 30, to maintain some consistency this season, adequately support Rask while getting ample playing time for a backup and give the Bruins the kind of good performance they’ll need if they hope to be a playoff team again this season. If Khudobin, McIntyre and Subban all fall flat again and Rask is run into the ground, things could go sideways for the Black and Gold once their No. 1 goalie begins to get overworked.
5) Can the Bruins veteran core group hold together for another run this season?
Zdeno Chara is one of the oldest players in the league at 40 years old, and veteran front-line centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have logged a lot of hard miles in their early 30s. Bergeron needed surgery for a sports hernia following the season and played hurt last season while watching his production drop as a result. Krejci was coming off hip surgery last year and then was hurt again in the playoffs after a subpar season coming off a summer of rehab. Chara has remained remarkably healthy in his career, but one has to expect he’s going to miss more and more time as the Bruins captain sees how long he can play into his forties. Similarly, Tuukka Rask is on the wrong side of 30 and coming off groin surgery this offseason after playing hurt last season and Brad Marchand is approaching his 30th birthday as well. Is the season where we see injuries really begin to hit a group that’s played a ton of hockey over the past 10 years, or we see their production really begin to drop as they start slowing down in NHL middle age? One could argue we’ve already seen evidence of this in the past few seasons with a proud, successful and grizzled group of veteran core players. Certainly, that was the case last season with 33-year-old David Backes as he begins to slow down. This could be a season where those older NHL bodies really start to stand out in a league where being younger, faster and more skilled is the name of the game.